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A Dallas Surgeon Who Survived West Nile Virus Says Most People 'Ignore The Warnings'


The Texas Medical Association has picked a North Texas doctor to be its next president. What stands out about him is what he’s been through. Almost a decade ago, Dr. Don Read nearly died from the West Nile Virus.

As concerns grow about the Zika virus coming to the U.S., Read says people need to protect themselves against mosquitos. 

Interview Highlights: Dr. Don Read…

…On how West Nile Virus changed him as a doctor:

“It gave me great empathy for my patients, obviously, and it taught me an important lesson. No matter how bad things are, it could always be worse.

Here I was in Baylor Medical in rehabilitation, trying to learn how to walk, talk, and write, and yet, here are these teens who are quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair.”

…On forming one of the first support groups for West Nile virus survivors:

Credit Krystina Martinez / KERA News
Dr. Don Read is a colorectal surgeon at Texas Colon & Rectal Surgeons in Dallas.

“I started it because when I was in the rehab hospital, we had our family conference. All the therapists and the doctors where there, and my wife asks, ‘do you have one of the previous patients with West Nile I could talk to about it?’ There was dead silence. No one said a thing and went on to the next thing, which meant that – as we found out – my doctor’s previous two patients didn’t get well and ended up in a nursing home, so we couldn’t find out much about it. There wasn’t much in the medical literature about it.

When [I spoke at the public health department and was on TV], four people who had West Nile called me up. We got together and talked, and we decided a support group would be a good thing to have.”

…On his concerns about the Zika virus:

“I see the same lack of concern in terms of how it’s going to affect everybody. It seems to be portrayed in the media as ‘oh, the mosquitos are going to bring it to us.’ It’s you and me, going to the Caribbean, getting it, and coming home. We’re the hosts. With West Nile, the birds are the hosts. With Zika…it’s here in you and me, the mosquito’s just transferring it from one person to another.”

…On people ignoring the warnings to protect themselves against mosquitos:  

“People aren’t going to pay attention unless they know someone who’s had it, or they’ve seen someone on TV or heard someone on the radio. I think despite all the preaching we do about protecting yourself against mosquitos, most people don’t pay attention. Like everything else, most people think they’re 17 and bulletproof and it can’t happen to them. With more exposure to what it really does to people, people will pay more attention.”

Dr. Don Read is a colorectal surgeon at Texas Colon & Rectal Surgeons in Dallas and the new president of the Texas Medical Association. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.